Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chasing dreams

For a long time, being able to communicate in Chinese language was a dream of mine, and when this photo was taken, it was a very far-fetched one. Now, however, I actually do speak Chinese and I use it every single day at work. It's time to start chasing new dreams.

I’ve been dreading to write this post, that’s why I have neglected my blog for the last few weeks.

When I turned 29 on August 15, I hit a milestone, namely 5 years in China. On September 11 (which I know is a very sad day for most people) I’ll hit another one: 10 years of living abroad. That’s more than one third of my life, and pretty much my whole adult life (so far).

I’ve been thinking a lot about everything I’ve been doing for the last 10 years abroad/5 years in China, and I look back at most of it with joy. I don’t have any real regrets, just some “I wonder what would have happened if I would have done this instead of that….” But I believe that’s pretty normal.

Next year I turn 30, and it feels as if I’ll enter a new era of my life (might sound cheesy, but that’s how I feel about it). I will leave my 20-ies with some sadness. It has been 10 pretty amazing years of living abroad and getting to know myself through my adventures and experiences in different countries, not to mention my interactions with people from different backgrounds and cultures. I’ve met some pretty amazing individuals over the years, some of which I still consider my closest friends. All in all, life in the 20ies has been pretty d*** good.

However, in order to make the most of this “final year,” I thought I’d make an effort to do something a little bit special. Something for me, like fulfilling a far-fetched dream of mine. So, some days before I turned 29 I started making a list of things I wanted to do before turning 30.

Seeing that I’m a bit of a list abuser (I make lists of food I want to eat, and at work I am know as being a “list person” too as my “to do” lists have been passed around more than once) I made an endless list, including all kinds of silly things I wanted to do before turning 30, like “trying 50 new restaurants in Shanghai!” and “wake up with a smile of my face at least 70% of the time.”

In order not to come across as a mad lady (unless I already have) I decided to narrow it down to three big things. Three dreams that I wish to fulfil before August 15, 2012. And those are:

* Run a full marathon (and at least one more half)


* Visit all 4 countries that I’ve referred to as “home” during the last 10 years


* Write a book

So, there you go. My list. My dreams. My goals. Shouldn’t be that hard to accomplish, right?


Pretty much all of my friends laughed when I mentioned the marathon, but nodded when I said I wanted to write a book (it’s not the first time I mention it to them, as it has been my dream for as long as I can remember, I actually “announced it” to my folks at the age of 10 when we were having dinner. Then they told me I should become a journalist first, as one simply can't just “become” a published writer).

Me, on the other hand, think the book is the scary part. Running is just running, and although I’ve had a sore hip for 2 months now and haven’t been able to run the miles I should run every week (but I do other training instead, and I’m training pretty hard, 4-5 times/week so I believe I’m keeping fit still), that doesn’t worry me too much. If it’s something I have it’s physical willpower –and I’m good at pushing myself when it comes to challenges. I might not finish within 4 hours, but (unless this hip continues to torture me all year long) I will finish the race, even though it might be painful.

The book, on the other hand… is another story. Since it’s been a dream of mine for so long there’s a bit of sentimental attachment to it. It’s super scary, and there’s constantly this fear of failure going on in my head. But as a wise friend told me:

-You cannot fail something unless you’ve tried.


So I better keep trying.

And this is when blogging comes into the picture. How do I make time for that? I already have a full-time job, I always come home late at night (since I do my workouts pretty much every day after work), and my best time for writing (when my brain is feeling fresh and creative) is during the very early mornings (which is the time slot that has been devoted to my blog for the last 4 or so years).

So, now you see how this equation isn’t adding up.


And now you know why I haven’t been updating my blog for the last few weeks.

I still don’t want to say “OK, so this is it, I’m closing down, bye bye, thanks for reading all these years! (and all of you who left me nasty, anonymous comments or abusive email, now you might as well disappear from this platform forever!)” because who knows: maybe I won’t fulfil my dream. Maybe I will be back. Maybe I’ll miss blogging too much. Maybe I’ll simply give up and go back to what has been my daily routine for the last few years.

So, this is not a goodbye.

But a see you later.

And I promise, regardless if I succeed or fail, to come back and update this blog on how I did with my three big “to dos” before August 15, 2012. And who knows. Maybe also along the way.

Until then.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don't challenge superstition!


When we flew back to China (on Saturday, August 13) we bumped into some friends at Helsinki airport.

-Hey, how’s your holiday been?! When did you first get here? (The standard post-holiday conversation, you know).

-It’s been great, we got here six weeks ago!

-You’ve had a six weeks holiday?!
Me and my bf flinched. We thought we had had an extremely long holiday –my bf had 3 weeks and I was off for a whole month.

-Yeah, well the last week was work, the guy said.

-Ah, OK.

-Well, we actually wanted to have our holiday a bit earlier and be back by now, but because I had a Chinese delegation coming to Finland I had to be here and take care of them.

-Right.

-We tried to get them to come here already in July but they refused, saying it was impossible. They really wanted to come in August.

-Oh?

-Yeah, and we pushed and pushed and then finally, they revealed why they just HAD to come in August. And not only in August. But on the 8th of August.

-Yes?

-Because they wanted to fly here on the 8th day of the 8th month: they arrived in Finland on August 8
(8/8 = very lucky day for many Chinese people as 8 is a lucky number in China).

-No way?!

-Oh yes! First we thought it was silly, then we remembered the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, and that it opened on August 8, 8.08pm. They take these things seriously in China. So we thought, how can we challenge superstition?

-Good point. So was it a successful visit?

-Sure, went great.

-Well then. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Office confrontation

Moment of truth -how much of this did you consume this summer?!

8.30 am. Monday morning. Back to work. Back to reality.

I enter the office. Bump into no one as I enter my office. Quickly push the power button on my computer. Unpack my handbag.

8.35am. I enter the kitchen. Armed with two large, 250 gram Fazer chocolate bars. Pressies for my workmates. A compulsory manner where I work.

8.36am. The ayi steps into the kitchen around the same time as I start putting down the chocolate on the table.

-Ah, Youna!! (Youna is my Chinese name) She says, and smiles. You’re back!

-Youna’s back?!
I hear, from outside.

It takes some 20 seconds and then they are all there. My wonderful workmates. Welcoming me back. And. Inspecting me.

One is so blunt that she says it straight to my face:

-Well, I want to see what has changed with you! And she gives me a long, once over, before she sighs and leaves.

No one has anything special to comment on. I haven’t cut or dyed my hair. I haven’t lost or put on weight. I haven’t got any great tan to show off.

Disappointed they all go back to their desks. Relieved, I feel like I can breathe again.

8.50am, my phone beeps. Text message from my boyfriend.

How did you go?!”

“Nothing!”
I text back. “You?”

“Well, one of my colleague said my face looks thinner. I guess that’s a good thing?”

“Congratulations!”
I reply.

“Well to you too. No one called you fat”
I receive back.

“True. Good day!”


And it is. As the day goes by no one says anything. No one seems to care. One workmate wants to know why I’m not more tired. Didn’t I just arrive? Should I not be more jet lagged, yawn and leave early? I tell her that I’m tired but that I’m still going to the gym that night. She sighs and eats some cookies that she keeps in her desk drawer.

By the end of the day, 500 grams of chocolate has been consumed. And no one has called me fat, big, or anything. They have, however, remarked on the fact that I had sushi for lunch. Still. It’s the first time I return from a long holiday abroad and no one says anything about my weight.

I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back in the buzz

Dear city how I've missed you!

Back in Shanghai after a looong holiday. Almost too long. I get way too lazy when my life lacks structure. But I’ve had a wonderful time in Finland and Sweden, and as soon as I get around to connecting my camera with a missing cable (…) I will upload a holiday photo special.

But like I said, now I’m back. Back in our old (or new, because we moved in here one week before we went on our holiday!) flat, back in the humid heat, enjoying the noises, smell and atmosphere of being back. It’s actually pretty wonderful! I’ve missed China. I've missed my friends and I've missed the food. But most of all, I've missed the life we have here. The every day life where anything is possible and nothing is predictable. Sure, it can be frustrating at times but most of the time it's kind of fun. Also, this time, the humid heat wave that hit me when I stepped out of the airport terminal and into the taxi did not make me feel like running back inside and hiding on the plane (I’m not going to lie, sometimes it does).

Instead, we decided to embrace being back. So, yesterday we did stuff like we normally never do here in China. We went grocery shopping, we cleaned, and, we went to Ikea! Yeah! Ikea on a Sunday –after not having slept for some 48 hours (since I am sometimes struggling with sleeping in a bed, sleeping on a plane is completely out of the question. I have even stopped trying) we decided that Ikea would be the perfect choice. We were so spaced out, so tired and so out of it that we couldn’t have cared less about pushing ourselves through throngs of people on a regular Ikea Sunday in Shanghai. Good times. And now our flat looks so a lot nicer than before (although I’m glad we didn’t do all of our “must do” Ikea shopping last night because we came home with cushions in the wrong colour –as we in the store remembered our couch as blue. In reality, however, it’s gray. We also couldn’t remember the colour of our couch table so in the end we couldn’t get half of the stuff we set out to do).

A funny thing that I realised yesterday when I used my Chinese again, after a month’s break, was how bad it must have gotten. Because, for the first time in I don’t know how long, people made comments about it. The fruit man in the grocery store, our security guard at the door (that laughed at us when we emptied our over filled mail box and bills literally fell out on the floor) the girl at the counter at Ikea… they all wanted to know how long I had been in China for, if I liked it here, and told me that my Chinese was everything from 还可以 (OK) to 很好 (very good). I've been told that when people say your Chinese is "OK" it is also a nice way of saying: “good effort but you’ve got some improvements to do!”

Now I’m off to the office and after 1 month away I am guessing I’m in for a super duper busy day with an over full inbox and some 82684962349 meetings I need to book. Oh, and did I mention it’s my birthday? Yeah, today I turn 29! What better way to kick start my last year in the twenties?

Monday, August 8, 2011

The annual Swedish crayfish party...

....started off in a quite calm, friendly, and sophisticated manner




Then I'm not quite sure what happened, but I guess everyone's true colours came out.






Until next year!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wknd in Tallinn, Estonia

The summer weather in Finland has been amazing this year. Except for a few rainy days in the beginning it’s basically been blue skies, sunshine and 25 degrees every single day. Since we live pretty much next to a forest and a lake, it’s been a lot of swimming during the last few weeks.

When the weather is so great you become almost ignorant to the fact that just because the sunshine is where you are, that doesn’t mean it’s sunny everywhere else. Or at least if your name is Jonna. So, when we decided to do a spontaneous wknd trip to Tallinn, Estonia, and I saw a weather forecast that said 17 degrees and rain, I still didn’t believe it. In shorts and a t-shirt (and equipped with no umbrella!) I jumped on a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn.

The ferry took 2 hours and once we arrived my shorts felt like the most ridiculous choice of clothing. It wasn’t that it was raining. Oh no. It was pouring down. Literally pouring down. There was so much water on the road that the cars could barely drive off the ferry.

Slightly disorganized Tallinn harbour didn’t really come with a taxi line so we had to wait for the taxi war to end before we managed to grab a car to our hotel, which was located in the beautiful old town.

Once there (and checked in), a windy and rainy day followed. Residents and shop owners of tourist-Tallinn obviously saw the rain as a great opportunity to make shit loads of money out of silly tourists (like us) who hadn’t brought an umbrella, and sold some pretty basic stuff at 18-21 euros, which is around 200 rmb. Yeah, I don’t think so.

After some serious searching we managed to buy plastic raincoats from a small shop for 1 euro/each (that’s more like it!) and challenged the weather. Fortunately it stopped raining towards the night and we had a nice time walking around old town, checking out old buildings and cute little shops, bars and restaurants.

Tallinn's a very touristy place with a focus on the medieval times, and locals aren’t necessarily the most friendly people that I’ve come across. At one cute little restaurant, for instance, we were sitting at the bar having drinks when a countless number of people came in asking to see the menu. The staff kept handing them a menu, but then when the guests required a table they just said:

-Sorry, we have no free tables and are booked all night.

Hm... so why not tell them that before they start studying the menu?!

We did some bar hopping, enjoyed an average Italian meal, and saw some pretty drunk groups of tourists, which is probably one of the reasons why locals don’t love the visitor flow. The next day the weather was better and on the ferry back to Helsinki we even sat on the sun deck, playing card games.

Suddenly a guy came up to me, saying:

-Hey, you live in Shanghai right?

-Eh… yes I do!


-Yeah, I recognize you. We work in the same office building. You’re on the 15th floor! I’m on the 17th!

There he was, a Brazilian guy hailing all the way from Shanghai to the Tallinn ferry, and he was pretty surprised to see me there too. We are now officially elevator buddies in Shanghai.

I have a tendency to bump into people that I know on airports, no matter what kind of strange place I get to I often see someone I know. But on a Tallinn ferry on my way to Helsinki?! Turns out –it’s a small world.

Some pix from Tallinn:


Estonia has only been independent since 1991 (This memorial stone is for all the people that died when the boat "Estonia" sank in 1994). With a population of 1,3 million (Tallinn has 400 000 citizens) it's a small country.


In a 1 euro raincoat...






Tallinn by nite


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer in Finland

Despite the horrific events that took place in Norway on July 22 I’ve managed to have a pretty good holiday. It was just really hard for a while to think about anything but the attacks. I have a countless number of Norwegian friends (from studying in Australia 2003-2005) and I’ve been in touch with pretty much all of them, just to make sure that they are OK (they all are. One guy has an apartment located some 500 m away from where to bomb blast took place, however, but he was in Australia for a holiday when everything happened. Fortunately, his flat is still intact). Since I can read Norwegian, I had a bit of an “information overload” situation in the beginning of last week, where I sat glued to the computer and read everything I saw in the newspapers, as well as blog posts and comments from Norwegian survivors. As a result, I cried a lot and didn’t sleep for three night, and when I did, I had nightmares where the shooter appeared, trying to kill me. So, I decided to keep away from the Internet for a bit, hence my decision to not blog. Hope you understand.

But except for the days that followed the sleepless nights last week (those were not fun) I’ve had a lot of fun. My first week in Finland was spent at my bf’s parent’s summer cabin, located in a small community called Hankasalmi. It’s a gorgeous place, and this time my folks came with us (all the way from Sweden, it took them quite some time to first drive to Stockholm, then take the ferry to Helsinki and then drive from there to Hankasalmi) for the first time! They loved it too (how can you not!) and we had some great times even though the weather wasn’t on our side at all times.

After the summer cottage stay I spent a wknd in Helsinki, followed by some gorgeous days in Tampere, Vammala, Vaasa and –Estonia’s Tallinn! But more about that in the following day’s posts.

Here comes some photos from the summer cottage:







Thursday, July 28, 2011

For Norway

On Monday at 12pm, all Nordic countries held a minute's silence for the victims of the bombing and shooting in Norway. On this blog, I'm taking a silent week.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How to find an apartment in Shanghai

Our first flat in Shanghai -quite nice one. Just located in the completely wrong part of the city -and as a result we had to spend 2 hour commuting every day. Oh, little did we know back then!

I just checked my blog email and saw two new emails from two different people about to move to Shanghai, asking me the same things:

-How do I find an apartment in Shanghai?
-How much should I pay for it?

Now, those are big questions, but since they came at the same time, and I’ve promised to answer blog enquiries during my holiday, I thought this could be worth a blog post.

Since I just completed a 2,5 month frustrating flat hunt, I believe that we can all agree that I am far from an expert on how to find accommodation fast. However, during my search for the perfect crib, I came across several different ways of searching for a place:

Finding a flat

There are several Eng and Chi websites offering housing advertisement in Shanghai these days:
Craigslist has a lot of listings, however, often lacks photos.

Then there is a housing section on smartshanghai, which is great as the housing ads offer both photos and map of where the apartment is located (+ links to several real estate companies), however, I have to say that the flats you see in the photos of the ads, and the flats that you go and see are often not the same. Also, I think a lot of the agencies posting on smartshanghai (not all of them though!) are keen to help wealthy laowais with expat packages. Having said that, however, there are still some really good ones and if you’re looking for shared accommodation, I believe this is a great place to look.

Another good site/forum that can help any Shanghai newbie with getting his/her question answered is Shanghai Expat.

Get an account, browse the topics, and fire away! I was a frequent user of this forum when I first moved to Shanghai, posting questions about everything from where to buy soy milk to how to find a basketball team.

If you master the Chinese language, you might want to take the advice of CNNGo and look for a flat on some of the local pages. Here’s the article that lists some of the big ones.

Another option (and my personal favourite choice) is to simply walk around in the area where you wish to live, and visit real estate agencies located in that area. Tell them your budget as well as your demands (one bedroom, two bedrooms, old house, new building… etc) and they can normally take you to see some places straight away. One thing I learned from my latest flat hunt was to stick to one or max 2 agencies, otherwise it might get too confusing, not to mention messy.

Don’t forget to bargain with the landlord. Ask for new furniture if you need, a lower rent, or whatever requirement you might have. Negotiating things like rent and furniture is a normal part of renting in China. Never just settle for what the landlord just tells you (unless you think the deal is already good enough).

Now, moving on to the second question:

How much should I pay?

This question is impossible for me to answer! It depends where you want to live (central areas, like Huangpu and Xuhui and Jing’an are normally more expensive than Pudong, Minhang, and Hongqiao), how big of a flat you want, what kind of furniture and decoration you need, an many other things. You simply have to set a limit for yourself and try your luck. You will notice quite soon if your budget is enough or not.

And finally…

Where should I live?

Having lived in 3 different areas in Shanghai: a six month stunt in Pudong, 2,5 years in Xuhui, and now 1 month in Huangpu (or old Luwan) –I can only tell you one thing: live close to your office/school, or, close to your mean of public transport. It makes life much easier and convenient because trust me, you don’t want to spend hours on commuting every day.

I hope this helps! Happy flat hunting.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer blog topics -suggestions, anyone?


Finally, my holiday is here! Today I’m off to Finland. I’ll be spending 3 weeks there, and then I’ll head over to Sweden for my final week. A whole month off –feels unbelievable! This wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for all the overtime hours I’ve done this spring (and really, I’ve worked a lot), so I guess working loads also has its advantages, hehe.

For those that have followed this blog carefully, today is also the day when by no-sugar bet with my significant other ends. Do you think I made it? No candy, cakes or sugar for some 2,5 months in order to win a shopping spree?

Well, of course I did. And not eating sugar has made me feel great, so who knows, maybe it’s something I will keep up. It wasn’t that hard to tell you the truth. Give it 2 weeks to get rid of the sugar craving and then you’re fine. Highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling with keeping their hands off chocolate bars.

Since I will be on a holiday there won’t be much action going on in my life. The summer days in Scandinavia tend to be bright and beautiful, but kind of boring in terms of action and events. So I’m not sure what to blog about. Do you guys have any suggestions/wishes? Anything you want to know about life in Finland/Sweden? Photo essays? Anything China related you wish me to write about? Could be anything -about studying in China, some restaurant recommendations, anything... Any questions you want answered? Fire away, because I’d like to keep this blog going even while I am away, but I need your input in order to make it interesting.

But first I have a 1 hour taxi drive, a 9 hour flight, and a 3 hour bus ride to look forward to… see you on the other side!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The starch girls


As I’m getting ready for a holiday in Europe, I obviously try to get the very most out of China before I leave, including:

• Pampering such as massages, manicure, pedicure
• Speaking as much Chinese as possible with my Chinese friends
• Indulging in a lot of spicy food

However, the whole pampering thing has become a down prio, as I’ve realised that I enjoy my other two priorities much more.

Some days ago, my best girlfriend and I went to one of our favourite Sichuan joints.

-Looks full, she said, as we stepped in and were greeted by a noisy, smoky but happy environment.

-Yup, I confirmed, trying to locate a free table.

-你们好!(Nimen hao!) Came the manager, who I’ve seen many times before, and, who must have recognized us, as he smiled a little bit too wide.

-No tables today? I asked.

-Always a table for you girls!

Yes, he definitely recognized us.

And, magically, he showed us to a free table.

Five seconds later a female waitress appeared with a menu.

While we started flicking through it, she stood by our side all the time, until she finally said, with some obvious impatience in her tone of voice:

-The mushroom dish that you are looking for is here.

She grabbed the menu and flicked the pages until… ta, da, out favourite mushroom dish appeared.

-One of these, she said to herself and wrote on her notepad.

-Eh… yes. We agreed.

-What else? Tofu?

-Eh, yes.

-Do you want your spicy noodles today or rice?

-Eh… spicy noodles. Yes. And rice.

-You want BOTH rice AND spicy noodles. That’s way too much.

-Eh, but we want both.

-Ah, you two. You always order the same and you always order too much!

We just stared at her, chins dropping to the floor.

-But we won’t waste it… I started, we will…

-You will get the leftovers in a doggy bag and take it as take away, oh yes, I know. Like you always do!

-Right…

-Still, I think you girls eat too much starch.

-Eh, er… well.


-Yeah don’t worry, you’ll get your noodles still.

-Eh… great! Thanks! Don't forget the rice!

Right. Time for us to change restaurant maybe? Or, maybe we should change up our order a bit? Then again, it’s so good?! And why change something that is good?

But damn. I thought all laowais looked the same to Chinese people? That’s what my friends often tell me. But apparently Chinese people too, learn to remember you by your habits. We are obviously the two doggy bag starch girls at this joint.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Work hard, play hard


A friend of mine works at a big, international company –the dream work place for many, both westerners and Chinese. Some weeks ago he recruited a new staff, a young Chinese girl who was selected to be his PR assistant. Some 70 people applied for the job, and he interviewed 10 for the position, and this girl was the one who impressed him the most, who seemed the most driven and who insisted that working for this company would be like a dream coming through for her.

They agreed on a quite attractive salary package, and she started her job.

On day one, she wanted to know everything about over time compensation.

On day two, she asked if she could get a new computer and a new cell phone.

One week into her job, when she was sent on a business trip, the first thing she did when she came back to the office, was to fill a travel claim form so that she would get her day pay allowance.

My friend saw her doing all of this and did not make any remarks. In fact, he told me about it, but said that he thought it was good, that this girl looked after herself so carefully, and that she made sure she got what she deserved.

Then, however, she handed in her sheet of overtime work.

1 hour, 5 min, 2 hour, 7 minutes… 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes.

The girl had written down every single extra minute she had spent by her desk since her first day.

Now, at this point my friend started to feel slightly concerned.

-Sure, it’s good that the girl is making sure that she is compensated for her overtime, he told me. But it’s not like I’ve even asked her to work over time! And what about those days when she comes in late? Or when she takes an extra 15 minutes of lunch? Or, should I even be concerned by the fact that she’s spending a lot of time chit chatting to her colleagues and not working that efficiently in front of her computer all day?

Tricky one, I agreed, especially since the girl was so new –no only at this office, but on the market. This was her first job since graduating. Normally when you are new at your job you might work extra hard and try not to be too demanding/complicated, in order to make a good impression (at least that is my personal strategy. You don’t start making demands until the company sees your value).

I decided to ask a Chinese friend of mine:

-Well, all Chinese people are like that. She said. We all write down if we work 5 minutes extra.

-But what if… what if you took a long lunch? Or if you came in a bit late for work? Or if you spent the first 10 minutes of your day eating breakfast in the kitchen
(a very popular habit of my Chinese co-workers. They all think I am crazy when I say I get up at 6am just so that I can enjoy my coffee and brekkie in peace at home. “Why do that when you can have it at work?!”).

My friend giggled and shrugged her shoulders, kind of saying: “well….”

-But what if… what if this job is very attractive and you’ve promised that you’re going to work extra hard?

-Well, not without getting compensation.

Well, wow. Go Chinese people, I have to say. Then again, is it just me, or is it a little bit weird that a fresh graduate come with this kind of mindset? I’ve always been taught to stand up for myself/think outside the box/work independently, but when I started my very first job, back in 2005, I was not a cocky staff member. I worked very hard, came in early every morning and stayed late (without asking for overtime compensation), brought work with me home –everything in order to make a good impression. I didn’t do it for money –I did it so that my bosses would see how hard working I was. Maybe it was stupid of me –of course my bosses saw that I was willing to work a bit extra for free, but I still don’t regret it. It was like teaching myself a lesson –learning the hard way about working life and about standing up for yourself.

Now I wonder how this girl, with her lack of pervious work experience, already seems to know all of this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Connected again

Sorry for the lack of updates –but now I’m finally back on track! Yesterday we celebrated 1 week (!) in our new flat, and we did that by having China Mobile guys over, installing the Internet. So now I can blog and read my emails again together with my morning coffee. Heaven!

I am so happy about our move of house. For the last week or so I’ve slept better than I’ve had for the last 6 months. It’s amazing. It’s like getting my old life back: I feel energetic, I feel happy, I feel healthy and I feel like myself. It’s like winning the lottery and the price is my own health.

Another great thing about finally have moved is that we no longer need to spend the wknds looking at apartments. Maybe it’s us being picky (and yes, I know it is), but since the beginning of May I believe we have spent every single wknd flat hunting. So darn boring, frustrating an uninspiring. Now we ended up in an area that we first would have never accepted, but I feel happy here. I can walk to my office (although it’s a bit hot to do so at the moment) and walk home after the gym. For someone that has been dependent on the metro for the last 1,5 year, that’s a nice and welcomed change.

Moving out of our old flat went surprisingly well, however, not without some compulsory weird comments. Shanghainese landlords are known for being tough cookies and trying their outmost to keep your deposit, regardless of how rosy and good you’re relationship has been. Our landlord, however, took a different approach. We told him that we had loved living in the flat and the only reason we wanted to move was the nightclub noise from the street below, resulting in me not getting any sleep. He nodded thoughtfully, walked into the flat, looked around, smiled, then looked at me and said:

-Gosh Jonna, getting no sleep must have been hard for you, but it also must have made you eat less because you have really lost some weight.

Then he smiled and handed over the deposit (every single little kuai!), and thanked us for being such great tenant.

We were so stoked about getting our money back that we didn’t even care to comment on the unnecessary weight remark. Besides, for once someone didn’t call me fat, so it actually didn’t hurt that badly.

Our new landlord seems cool and quite easy going so far. He’s already been over once to look at our heater, that seems to be leaking gas:

-It’s the heavy wind that has been blowing for the last few days, he finally told us.

-The… wind? But… it’s leaking gas?! When we shower!

-Yeah, and it’s because of the wind!

-Eh…right.

Yeah, not sure if I’m buying that story, especially since it hasn’t been a storm out there or so to say. But in a few days we are going on a holiday so we thought we’d leave it there and deal with it when we come back again.

All in all –life is good. I can sleep. I like our new place. A holiday is around the corner. And hopefully, some exciting things are going to happen in the near future.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Time to pack up and leave


Finally, we have found a new crib! That only took us… some 2,5 months or something?! Our current lease expirers in just a few days, so we really left it for the last minute. During our flat hunt, I think we have seen more than 100 flats in at least 4 different district. In the end, we considered everything, and still, it was so hard to find something decent.

I’ve never before found it hard to find a flat in Shanghai –but this time it was a true struggle. My old real estate agent told me that it’s because house prices are rocketing and as a result, more people are renting. Not only does this lead to less available places, but also, rents going up. For instance, on our way to see one place in the French Consession, we met some old friends of mine, and while we discussed our flat hunt we realised that we were about to go and have a look at THEIR old place! They had left it some 2 months ago, leasing it for 5500 rmb. Now it was on the market for 8000. Crazy.

During our search we ended up using a bunch of different real estate agents. My old agent (who helped me find the place where we are staying now) got sick of us quite quickly as I refused to settle for some overpriced bulls** meanwhile he kept telling me that there wasn’t anything else out there. Now I am glad that I didn’t give in. The place that we are moving to is not exactly what we wanted, but pretty close. It’s located in Huangpu (or old Luwan, as the two districts have now merged), so for us it will be a completely new area to try, which I think is fun. We’ve been living in Xuhui/the French Concession for quite a while now (basically since we moved to China, minus a 6 month stunt in Pudong and 2 years in Suzhou) and I’m a bit tired of the whole “old lane house” style.

Now we just have to do the actual move too, and then life will be good (gosh, I hate moving?! Where does all this stuff come from?!). Last night when I couldn’t sleep because of all the noise outside our window, I couldn’t help but smiling. I seriously cannot wait to not having to sleep with double earplugs. One more night –and then we are out of here. Hallelujah!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Crossing the line of openness

Sharing food -fine! Sharing salary info... I don't think so!

Back in a hot and humid Shanghai. I would lie if I said I don’t miss Sweden’s blue skies, green fields and fresh air, but then again, I only have another 2 or so weeks at work, then I’m going back to Scandinavia on a holiday, so I’ll manage! In fact, it’s kind of nice to be back, especially since I’ve missed all the everyday craziness (or whatever you should call it? Charm?!) about China. Such as yesterday, when I went to the ladies room (which is located in our office building, rather than inside our actual office, so you have to head out to the elevators to visit the loos) at work.

While I was washing my hands, the ayi who cleans the toilets every day came in. We have a friendly kind of relationship: We greet each other with smiles, hold up doors for each others, small talk about the weather and so on. However, yesterday she took our “relationship” to a whole different level when she asked:

-So you work over there? (pointed towards where my office is located).

-Yeah!

-I bet your salary is high.

-Excuse me?

-You salary.

-Eh, yes?

-How much do you make?

-Eh… you want to know how much people in my office… earn?

-Yes.

-It’s different… we all earn different salaries.

-So how much do YOU make?

-Eh…

-What’s your salary?

-Eh… actually… I don’t really want to tell you that. It’s kind of private.

-I bet it’s a lot.

-Eh… not really… eh… I’ve got to go. Bye!

Whoa! What’s that all about? Sure, I know that people in China are open about their salaries (in fact, soon after I started my job I found out that one of my Chinese workmates had gone to our accountant and asked to see my pay-slip. Right. As you normally do. Eh….), but to me, this is taking it a bit too far.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Midsummer in Sweden

Idyllic Nordic summer shot -how it's supposed to be (this shot is actually from Savonlinna in Finland)

Sorry for the lack of updates -I'm in Sweden on a business trip. But I took today off in order to celebrate Swedish Midsummer -a traditional festive day that I haven't celebrated in Sweden for 10 years! As usual, this day comes with a bit of a wind, some chilly temperatures and rain, but that's Swedish summer in a nutshell, and especially on this day! I'm soon heading over to one of my old childhood friends for a traditional Swedish midsummer feast. Happy midsummer everyone!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bruised shoulders after a painful rub


Lately my back has been feeling kind of stiff, so yesterday after work I decided to skip the gym and head for a massage. Massage for me is something I often talk about, but seldom do. Every time I have visitors in town and take them for massage (and they ohh and ahhh over the low prices and the quality of massage) I think to myself: “Damn, this is good! I should do this on a regular basis now when I actually live in a country where it’s good and it doesn’t cost a fortune.” However, as soon as the friends depart I forget all about my promise to myself and my shoulders.

Since my sleeping pattern (still) is a bit off, I thought that maybe a massage could help me relax. So, I went to a place and told the masseuse (a young, Chinese guy) to focus on the stiff areas and knots of my shoulders and back.

-Don’t worry about doing some kind of massage routine where you massage every single part! I added, maybe a wee bit too confidently. I just want you to focus on the problem areas!

Fifteen minutes later I was on a massage bench, head facing down, tears pouring down my cheeks.

-Tell me if it’s too much pressure! I'm just focussing on the problem areas! The guy whispered.

I tried hard to endure it, thinking that “sometimes pain is necessary” and “maybe this is actually good for me? Who said that a massage should always be pleasant?” but then after a while I thought I was going to faint of the pain and had to tell the guy to be a little bit softer.

-Oh, haha, well, you’re so stiff…

(Ya, just rub it in will you?)

-Do you work a lot in front of the computer… he went on.

-I… I’ve actually had some problems sleeping lately, and I think it’s because I’m too tense… I started, and once I started it was as if I’d open a tap. It all just flowed out of me.

The guy listened carefully, while he kept rubbing my shoulders, making it really hard for me not to scream out loud out of pure and utter pain.

-Well if you have sleeping problems you shouldn’t do shoulder massage, you should do foot massage! He finally said.

-Really?

-Really! It can help!


Thirty painful minutes later it was over, and the guy asked me to sit up.

-Here, he said, and handed me a pair of slippers. A gift to you. I hope you can sleep tonight. If not, come back tomorrow for some foot massage!

-Eh, thanks.

As I walked home, slippers in hand, my shoulders felt as if they had been abused. This morning they are actually bruised, shifting in the colours of red, purple and blue and they still hurts as h***.

But… I fell asleep last night! Without the help of any melatonin and without tossing and turning for hours. So who knows. Maybe that painful massage did help? I’ve already decided not to do it again though. Not worth the pain. I mean, I can forget about body pump tonight. Just the thought of putting a weight bar or any kind of pressure on my shoulder makes me shiver. Next time I’ll try a foot massage. Has anyone with sleeping issues ever had any experience of that being able to help?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The horrible flat hunt

Finding a new apartment in this city is a nightmare. We have been looking for a month now, and so far we haven’t seen anything we like. If it’s not too dirty, it’s too expensive or too far away from the areas where we want to live.

For a long time we were looking for something in Luwan, but since our budget is far from unlimited we’ve given up on that area. With what we could pay we couldn’t get anything decent anyway. Most of all I wish we could stay where we are now, but with the noisy nightclubs below our complex, it’s a no can do. I’m already sleeping with double earplugs (and I still hear the music!) and now I’ve started getting problems with my ears. We HAVE to move, but there are so few good places out there… ahhh, headache!

During the month of hunting we’ve seen some of the most disgusting places ever. I seriously cannot believe how some people are living over here. Especially one apartment, that could have been good, but that was occupied by 3 foreign ladies when we visited it, was so dirty, smelly and disgusting that I felt like throwing up. They were literally living in their own filth. Yuk! It didn’t matter that the agent reassured us that the flat would be cleaned throughout when they moved out, that image of stains, dirty underwear and piles of unwashed dishes still lingered in my brain for days.

We’ve had some real interesting encounters with agents too, simply by making the mistake of using too many. At one point we went with one agent in the morning, and had another appointment with a second one at midday. However, the first agent ended up taking us to the apartment that we were supposed to see with the second agent (who was downstairs waiting for us!). When I realized the mix-up I called the second agent and explained, and he was furious! He came upstairs and started a fight with the first agent, and then started yelling at us that if we were to rent this flat, we HAD to use him. Eh…. Right. Not the way you get customers if you ask me. We ended up turning away from both agents, as they both harassed us with phone calls for days after the incident. Funny that none of them even thought of blaming the landlord, who had obviously contacted several agents in order to get his/her flat rented out.

Anyway, we still have another month or so on our current lease, and now I’ve gone back to my old agent from when I first moved to Shanghai from Suzhou in 2010. He still calls me “Youla” and he’s still the best agent I’ve come across (honest, straight-faced and with a no-bullshit attitude) over here, however, the fact that there is not much decent stuff out there is an obvious problem, so let’s see how it goes.

I’m keen to find a clean, simple and quiet place where I can stay for a LONG TIME so that I don’t have to do this all over again. Flat hunting is simply horrible.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Greediness shows its ugly face


I had dinner with an old friend the other week, a Chinese girl surnamed Wang that I haven’t caught up with for ages.

After the usual chit chat (“your hair is longer/you are not fatter than before –haha!! Note that it has changed!-/do you still not cook any food at home?/how high is your rent?”) we got down to some serious business when my friend told me about her worsening family situation.

Wang’s mother has got three siblings. When Wang’s mother’s mother (so Wang’s grandmother) passed away some months ago, one of the sisters was living together with the mother, taking care of her and the house chores.

Wang’s grandma left her family an apartment but no will, obviously hoping that her children would split the assets evenly between all four of them.

However, since the aunt lived with the grandma, and had been pulling the heavy load by herself for a long time, she decided to simply declare that the apartment should be hers and hers only.

In fact, do you know what she used as her main argument? That she has a son. The other ones all have daughters. She claimed that she needs the money for the apartment to give to her son, so that her son eventually can buy his wife-to-be a new apartment. Otherwise no one will want to marry him. Or so she said.

(But who wants to marry someone who only says yes if you own property?! Jesus, what happened to “I want someone intellectual with a great sense of humour?!” Well, actually, maybe those were never the usual requirements on the Chinese meat market anyway.)

And what happend then?

Well, obviously. Some serious family dramas evolved.

The siblings started fighting.

Their children stopped talking to each other.

The siblings husbands/wives tried to meddle.

Everything escalated and nothing was going to get solved easily with a real estate market that
is so overheated that house prices are rocketing in the sky.

-Now my father tells my mother to simply forget about the apartment and that we should not fight anymore. But it’s hard for my mother. She thinks it’s so unfair. And all that money could be such a great help…

-Do Chinese people not have wills?!
I wondered, astonished of everything I’d just heard.

-Not really. This is a very common problem in today’s modern society. Many families have problems like ours.

Then we looked up the word "will" on my Chinese dictionary and nodded in union.

-Maybe this is something that Chinese people should consider... Wang said.

I don’t know what I find the saddest: the broken family bonds? The greediness? The fact that the aunt feels that she has to do this in order for her son to ever get married? Or, the fact that everybody in Wang's family have been so busy fighting over the apartment that they forgot to mourn the grandma?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Table Tennis Festival in pictures












video

Persson playing a Chinese rising star (he got to play some professional kids in a knock-out tournament and then the winner got a game with him. Some of those kids were pretty good!).
video
Here playing against the winner of the men's tournament: a 60 year old guy from Ericsson. He was so happy, and I believe so was Persson. A joy to watch their last game.